After a few days of Lucy being in the Pavlik Harness, I started to notice that when she had her ‘happy hour’ each day, her right leg would kick furiously as soon as it was set free but her left leg stayed in an abducted (bent up and out to the side) position. I raised my concern with my husband and we thought that maybe it was just her body’s way of healing itself by staying in the optimum position for the hip socket to be corrected. We didn’t want to be paranoid parents and over-react. I still had an uneasy feeling about it though.
A few more days went on and my uneasiness grew when she started to cry as though in pain when we moved her left left leg at change and bath times. I did what any modern, rational mother would do and hopped on Doctor Google to see if any other parents out there had experienced the same thing. We joke about Doctor Google but I tell you what, there is a lot you can learn from other parents on forums and blogs, which is what gave me the idea of starting up my own blog. Doctors, especially in public hospitals, are so pushed for time with their waiting rooms bulging at the seams that they can’t always have nice long chats with you hashing out all your concerns and questions. Also, your concerns and questions usually crop up only once you’ve left the hospital and are now having to sink or swim on your own at home. That’s where we parents can do so much to help each other out by adding our experiences to the online conversation.
I got onto a forum where parents were discussing DDH and came across a parent who had gone through the same stiff leg problem that Lucy had. Now the alarm bells really went off because the mom in question put a name to the condition: femoral nerve palsy. This got me in a total spin and I phoned up the hospital at once to book an appointment for the next day. On one hand I was angry with the hospital for not warning me that this could happen in which case I would have whisked her off to the hospital days ago. On the other hand I was so angry with myself for not trusting my mother’s instincts for fear of appearing paranoid. It sounds so cliched to tell parents to trust their gut, but I learnt first-hand that it is so true.
According to the International Hip Dysplasia Institute’s website, femoral nerve palsy affects 2 – 3% of babies in the Pavlik Harness. What happens is that the muscle on the front of the thigh “falls asleep” and the baby can’t straighten the knee. It isn’t painful; it is just like when you’ve been sitting cross-legged for too long and your leg goes numb. If left too long, though, it could lead to permanent damage to the nerve.
At the hospital, the orthopedic doctor was sceptical when we raised our concern about femoral nerve palsy. He said it was extremely rare and in the four years he’d worked there, they had never seen a case of it. He went on to say that Pavlik Harnesses don’t cause palsy, at which point I tersely presented him with the statistic from the International Hip Dysplasia Institute (Doctor Google: 1 Orthopedic Doctor: 0). I must have displayed enough fierceness to make him change gear a bit and start to take me seriously because he then examined Lucy and agreed that yes, her left leg wasn’t moving and yes, she did seem to be in pain when it was moved for her. He arranged for another ultrasound to be done on her hips and knees to try figure out what was going on.
We were most fortunate on this occasion because our appointment at the hospital coincided with the weekly meeting of the orthopedic doctors and their director. The ultrasound was completed just in time for the results to be discussed at this meeting, so we had the best possible brains looking at Lucy’s case and making decisions on what to do next. This was comforting for me since I had lost faith in the first doctor after he’d shown his ignorance about the link between palsy and Pavlik Harnesses.
When their meeting was over, we sat down again with the doctor and he said it would be best to take Lucy out of the harness for a bit and monitor the left leg to see whether the movement would return to normal. A follow-up appointment was scheduled for three weeks’ time.
We had a blissful three weeks with Lucy out of the harness and and were so relieved when her leg was moving normally again within about three or four days. In the back of our minds the whole time, though, was the concern about what we would have to do next. The Pavlik Harness was an awkward thing to work with but it was not the worst form of treatment available. I dreaded having Lucy undergo surgery and being put in an awful spica cast, which is a plaster of paris cast that stays on for months.
I got hold of our close friends and family to fill them in and ask them all to pray that her hip would come right without the need for any further treatment. Jon and I prayed like crazy every day and when we went to church we asked friends to pray for her at the service too. What we needed now was a miracle.